Essay: Cold War This Is a Guideline

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Cold War

This is a guideline and template. Please do not use as a final turn-in paper.

From the outside it seemed as if it happened almost overnight. It was the biggest event of the 20th Century -- unparalleled in its scope and unmatched in the total unbelievability of it all.

The world watched as it all tumbled down; the most visible aspects of it, Boris Yeltsin on top of the tank in Moscow, and the Berlin Wall hammered into rubble. The Soviet Union had collapsed, fallen from the weight of its own ineptness and financial ruin, helped by three courageous leaders an ocean apart -- Michael Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, and Ronald Reagan.

In attempting to create a unified socialist country, several problems arose for the original communist founders and leaders. First, the people of the Soviet Union -- ethnic groups made up more than 50% of the population -- resisted being "Russianized." Second, the economic planning of the socialists failed miserably to accommodate the vast needs of an enormous country which was in an extravagantly expensive arms race with the United States. This economic disaster waiting to happen ate away at the stability of the Soviet Union for decades until Ronald Reagan took it over the edge with his "evil empire" and "star wars" defense system that financially ruined the U.S.S.R. Finally, the whole idea of Communism -- the ideal itself -- never took root in these independent, non-Russian working people who would finally discover what their country, and their leaders had really been.

Gorbachev

Gorbachev became General Secretary of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union in 1985. His predecessors, Leonid Brezhnev, Yuri Andropov, and Konstantin Chernenko had all held the same position, and all had died in office within the previous three years. The Soviets knew they could not possibly suffer another loss of a short-term leader, and so appointed Mikhail Gorbachev, 56, as General Secretary. It was a "mistake" from their perspective that they would regret beyond anything they could imagine.

That moment in history is the day that the Soviet Union began its collapse. Gorbachev had only one priority in mind -- reform. It may have looked as if the collapse happened overnight, this was the moment it started. The breakdown of the "old guard" USSR is more complex, and more intriguing than that. Gorbachev, with Ronald Reagan's support, did it. His appointments and his drastic reformation introduced glasnost, perestroika, and, yes, a form of democracy split open the tomb-like secrecy of the communist country and all the world saw what it really was.

And there were historical atrocities beyond belief, economic missteps and incompetence, and, finally, the people themselves with a pent-up frustration and animosity that would change the world.

Glasnost means openness. Gorbachev hated lies most of all, and that was what the country he loved had been built on. Entire eras of Soviet history, once cherished, and previous General Secretaries and other leaders, revered by all, were discovered to be just lies. Stalin finally discovered as the horrible tyrant and brutal dictator he had been. Names like Cherenko and Brezhnev laid bare for the brutal murderers they really were.

To the Soviet people it had to be, in the beginning, their worst nightmare -- as if Lenin himself had been Jack the Ripper. But at least, he, their saint and founder, remained revered.

The entire history of the U.S.S.R. had been torn apart. It would be as if, in the United States, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt and John Kennedy had been uncovered as leaders with brutality matching Adolf Hitler. The country was being rended from end to end.

An interesting side note that tells the whole story is the cancellation of all school history exams in the Soviet Union for the year 1988. The history of the country had been altered so much that existing text books were useless.

Of course, then there were the extreme radicals on one side who wanted reform to move faster, and hardline "old-guard" leaders on the other that could not face or accept the changes, and blamed only one man -- Gorbachev. Each extreme attacking the other, and him.

Prada, the newspaper of the Communist Party continually hammered at the "extremists and nationalists who were hiding their true face behind a mask of commitment to perestroika."

This overall critical review of history that "glasnost" opened up was, of course, unprecedented in this communist country. Khrushchev had criticized Stalin, but only in a self-serving manner to help his own career, and only with half-truths that didn't reveal the animalistic qualities of Stalin, as glasnost did. Along with glasnost, the liberal press had finally been allowed to print most of what they wanted to, and the real truths came out in torrents. Television, radio, newspapers, magazines all printed the true history of the U.S.S.R.'s past. And when that became old news, the press turned its attention to the necessity for reforms and the "slowness" in the progress of Gorbachev's efforts, even though he was attempting to overturn 70 years of communist lies and silence.

By about 1989 Gorbachev's glasnost was not enough for the liberal press. Now it came to be criticized as "not enough." Freedom of the press (and the people) opened up the usual can of worms that freedom always does -- speech and expression took all forms. Anything and everything became the target of this new-found freedom. Subjects that could have only been discussed in the back rooms and basements of homes only a couple of years earlier were now the fodder of the press and radicals. Abolish the Communist Party, the failure of perestroika (rebuilding), and democracy were openly put forth in the media.

The new openness was evident during the Chernobyl nuclear explosion in 1986. Initially, for the first 48 hours, the Soviets did their usual "silence" thing. But then complete honesty, and an unprecedented wave of information rolled forth. Glasnost was truly working. Not only that but the environment suddenly became a huge topic of discussion, and all of the incompetence of former Soviet leaders came out regarding that subject as well. One example -- that Soviet leaders had turned Central Asia into a desert by diverting rivers to provide water for cotton plantations -- became a hitching post for the media in describing the gross stupidity. And, as a small incident like this can do, it angered the people even more.

The whole of the country was in chaos, but, for the first time, the media was explaining it, and the people were aware of the scope of the ineptitude and brutality that had been taking place for years -- and they were angry -- extremely angry. The Soviet leadership was faced with something it had not had to deal with before, and that was an emotionally upset population demanding answers. They weren't begging or asking or hoping for answers. They commanded their leaders to come forth with them -- now. Glasnost and perestroika were not enough

Gorbachev had unleashed a sleeping giant, and now the giant became awake and a living, breathing revolutionary atmosphere took shape all over the country. It wanted to take giant steps while it perceived Gorbachev, who knew better than to take giant leaps, was proceeding more cautiously.

Disintegration

It was the fringe areas of the U.S.S.R., the areas where a majority of those ethnic groups lived, that began collapsing first. The dissent began there, in the Baltics. Just two years after Gorbachev came to power, mass dissent began. Estonia demanded autonomy. Lithuania and Latvia followed, challenging Gorbachev's glasnost.

Gorbachev had to maintain control as leader of the country, but did not want to react too much or too severely to the rebellion, but could see that leaving them unchecked would mean chaos for the Soviet Union if he allowed these areas to demand independence. Now, other claims for independence came from the southern region of the country which was populated by the Armenians, in Azerbaijan. The Armenians wanted to secede and demonstrated massively to that purpose. Gorbachev refused and the dispute became violent.

These rebellions spread across the country to Georgia, Byelorussia, Ukraine, the Central Asian republics, and Moldova. Gorbachev's government was weakened because they could not depend on the local governments to help put down the revolt.

The Coup d'etat

It was late afternoon, August 18, 1991. Gorbachev was at his Dachau on the Black Sea with his family, for some well-deserved rest and recuperation from six years of glasnost and perestroika and his country's rebellion against the slow pace of reform.

At around 5 p.m. that day, while Gorbachev was at his desk, his guard approached and informed him that a group of Communist Party officials were at the Dachau demanding an audience with him. He picked up the phone to find out what they wanted, and discovered that all five telephone lines were dead.

The officials were let in and informed Gorbachev that the country was in chaos and he was being… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Cold War This Is a Guideline.  (2009, November 19).  Retrieved May 25, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cold-war-guideline/39439

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"Cold War This Is a Guideline."  Essaytown.com.  November 19, 2009.  Accessed May 25, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/cold-war-guideline/39439.